by Mike Mitchell @MikeMitchellXFL
This is a question that I am sure that many followers of the XFL, have been asking themselves since Vince McMahon announced the XFL’s return on January 25th of last year. Personally, I still can’t believe that the XFL is returning. It still doesn’t seem real. The history of proposed launches and relaunches of leagues is not a good one.
The first quarter of this year is a crucial period that could help determine whether the XFL starts off on the right note. A lot of what transpires in these first three months will help determine whether or not, The XFL is going to have lasting power. There is even doubt by some that the league will be able to launch come February of 2020. Recent history shows that simply getting to the field and playing games is not a given.
As chronicled here at XFLBoard in recent articles. There are several hurdles for the XFL in building and launching their league. From the financial aspects to getting players, coaches and business partners to commit. Just starting up a pro football league is very challenging. Let alone having it be a success. Since version 1.0 of the XFL faded in 2001. There have been so many proposed leagues that failed to even take the field. Too many to mention but let’s look at a few.
On several occasions, the ‘new USFL’ was supposed to launch. Businessman and former NFL players were a part of the potential relaunch. They had a new league logo, proposed team locations and nothing ever came of it. The Spring League of American Football has pushed back their launch for several years now. Headed by TV executives, the SAFL has launched a website but nothing else. The North American Football League had team names and cities announced. Their owners didn’t even show up for open tryouts and they were arrested for allegedly defrauding potential investors. They were supposed to launch in 2016. Back in 2007, there was the All American Football League. Very few even remember it. This was a 6 team league with no team nicknames. Just teams labeled as “Team Texas” and “Team Florida.” The plan was to be a college like league with territorial designations. The league was started by former NCAA president Cedric Dempsey. The AAFL even got to the point of having their inaugural draft. Several former NFL players signed on like Peter Warrick. “He Hate Me” Rod Smart was slated to play for Team Tennessee at Neyland Stadium. Coaching staffs were established, as were all the teams playing locations. The AAFL never got their TV deal, the league was postponed for thre straight years before eventually fading into darkness and ceasing operations.
So much time is spent about these leagues getting to the finish line, when just getting to the field has been an issue. Even leagues like The UFL, that did get to the starting line, had to reshuffle and change their plans just to get there. 2009 was supposed to be that league’s big launch. An 8 team 20 million dollar cap with a lengthy schedule turned into a soft launch 4 team league with a shortened schedule. Credit to them for still pushing forward and trying to build as time went on, but that building started crumbling before the foundation was even laid.
Even as someone who has supported and covered the XFL in 2001 and now in 2019. I am cautiously optimistic but borderline skeptical. The XFL has great financial backing and a world class commissioner at the helm in Oliver Luck. Someone who has great experience in launching teams and running leagues. The XFL has hired a scouting department and they have staffed some key roles for the league. Cities have been announced in world class markets with top notch stadiums.
The league appears to be on the right path, but with a year until games presumably kick off on Saturday February 8th 2020. The heavy lifting starts now, in what has been labeled as the XFL’s 2019 Preseason. There is time but the clock is ticking. Certain things need to happen before this league can become a reality.
The first major sign of the XFL becoming a reality is their yet to be announced TV rights deal. When the league was officially announced as returning by Vince McMahon last January. The thought was that the XFL would struggle to find the type of TV partner, that they had back in 2001 when NBC became their 50-50 partner. The thought going around was that the relaunched XFL would follow the streaming model with a potential cable partner. The feeling amongst many was that the XFL wouldn’t be able to do better than that.
In recent interviews, XFL commissioner Oliver Luck has left the impression that the league is in negotiations with legacy carriers that broadcast NFL games. A rights package deal is supposed to be announced in the first quarter of 2019. Which means that there should be something announced in the next month, but until there is, the skepticism remains alive. A TV deal will not only net the league the necessary exposure it needs to survive, but it will be a selling point for fans, potential viewers, players, coaches, advertisers and potential business partners. If the league does not get a quality distribution deal, then it will struggle to get people to buy into their league.
There was some talk by Oliver Luck of a potential TV deal being announced before the end of 2018. Like the XFL City situation, the locations were slated to be announced in the fall and technically it was, they were announced in the fall on December 5th but a lot later than people anticipated. It took 11 months for the league to get to that point from the relaunch announcement to city reveals. It simply can’t take that long for the next wave of league goals, if it does, there will be delays that could halt the launch in 2020, or at the bare minimum affect the quality of the league’s play when they do eventually launch.
Can the XFL proceed to the other important hires before netting a TV rights deal? The league’s cities have been announced but there is still the matter of creating the infrastructure for each team. The league has yet to hire team presidents and employees for each XFL City. This will be crucial in establishing themselves in all eight XFL markets. Right now, fans can make season ticket deposits at XFL.com, but the league is a long way from setting schedules, marketing and advertising locally without actual team operations staffs.
The city offices are a boring subject but it’s vital for getting off the ground running. The XFL is not there yet. Then there is the matter of team branding. A crucial element towards building up anticipation and interest for the league. The new XFL has to get this right but it’s more of a superficial thing right now. It’s just as important as these other matters in the first quarter of 2019 but it won’t mean anything if the other goals are not met.
The sexy part of team building is hiring head coaches, putting together coaching staffs and then signing quarterbacks to league contracts. This is what has been earmarked as the first goals for the XFL in the 1st quarter of this year. That means that by the end of March, all of this should be completed.
As we approach mid-January, the coaching carousels are almost done spinning in the NFL and in college football. Staffs are being finalized. There will be a number of coaches out there looking for work. Getting these coaches to commit to your league will not be an easy sell. Depending on the quality of the coaches, retaining them will also be a challenge. As evidenced by the recent happenings in The Alliance of American Football. With just a few weeks before their season is set to begin. Atlanta Legends coach Brad Childress has stepped down, Arizona Hotshots Offensive Coordinator Hugh Freeze left for a head coaching job at Liberty and Memphis Express OC Hal Mumme bailed on his job. It’s not enough to get these coaches to sign on, you need them to make a serious commitment. In turn, coaches will only commit to the XFL if they see it as being serious.
Quarterback commitments will be tough as well. The biggest selling point of the league in terms of their quality of play mission statement, is their announced 300 thousand dollars a season salary for their premiere Quarterbacks. A far cry from their 45k a season salaries back in 2001. It sounds great in theory but which quarterbacks are going to commit to signing on with the XFL in 2019, and then hold off on going to any other league until after the 2020 XFL season ends. Like the issue with head coaches, a strong commitment will be needed. You are asking a potential star QB to sit out the 2019 NFL, CFL or AAF seasons and to stay under contract and wait till the XFL season starts in February and then ends in May, before potentially exploring other opportunities.
As of mid-January, there are so many questions that are left unanswered right now with the XFL. Hopefully as fans and supporters, the blanks will start getting filled in in the coming weeks.